It is 1914. As the Great War looms, the mighty Ottoman Empire is crumbling. Constantinople, the once vibrant, multicultural capital on the shores of the Bosporus, is about to be consumed by chaos.
Michael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), arrives in the cosmopolitan hub as a medical student determined to bring modern medicine back to Siroun, his ancestral village in Southern Turkey where Turkish Muslims and Armenian Christians have lived side by side for centuries.
Photojournalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale), has come here only partly to cover geopolitics. He is mesmerized by his love for Ana (Charlotte le Bon), an Armenian artist he has accompanied from Paris after the sudden death of her father.
When Michael meets Ana, their shared Armenian heritage sparks an attraction that explodes into a romantic rivalry between the two men. As the Turks form an alliance with Germany and the Empire turns violently against its own ethnic minorities, their conflicting passions must be deferred while they join forces to survive even as events threaten to overwhelm them.
Promises are made and promises are broken. The one promise that must be kept is to live on and tell the story.
What did I think of the film? I felt a rush of emotions; the awe of stepping back in time, watching two men fall in love with the same woman. It brought both tears and heartache because it is set during the Armenian Genocide. There was a small silver lining in the film, but I am not giving anything away.
Tiffany’s response to the film: The movie The Promise truly moved me and my dear friend who is Armenian. It was wonderful to see this story finally be told, and it really played out so well on the screen. I felt the sorrows and the strength of these Armenian people. The cast was well-chosen for the characters. We definitely gave it two thumbs up for sure. Through making this movie, it was indeed a promise that was well-kept.
What about Armita? She was busy chatting with Eric’s wife in Persian and taking photos.
Behind the Scenes
It was much more than a screening; we had the pleasure of getting an in-depth look behind the scenes. We interviewed the lead producer of Survival Pictures, Eric Esrailian, a gastroenterologist who is also on faculty at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Why would a medical doctor get involved with film, especially this film? First a little bit about Eric. He grew up in San Mateo, attended UC Berkeley and Loma Linda University School of Medicine. Eric saw the need to create a bridge between the arts and human rights, particularly for at-risk populations. His great-grandparents were survivors of the Armenian Genocide, and his mentor was the late Kirk Kerkorian, the businessman and humanitarian who established Survival Pictures.
Eric and his Survival Pictures coproducer Anthony Mandekic were given the mission to create unique content with a lasting social impact. They sought out partners and crew who would create not only a film, but an experience. The crew brought a wealth of talent to the project, and included screenwriter Robin Swicord (an Academy Award nominee for her work on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button); Academy Award winning director Terry George (who also directed Hotel Rwanda) wrote the screenplay; Hollywood producer Ralph Winter (producer of such blockbusters as X-Men films, plus Fantastic Four and Star Trek series); and don’t forget the cast.
It was an honor for us to connect with Eric Esrailian. We learned so much from our time that we wanted to share our insights and much more.
The Feel of Constantinople
What about the scenery? How were they able to capture the authenticity and feel of old Constantinople?
In order to get the look and feel, they hired the Spanish production company Babieka, which then found the best location scouts in the area. Some of the film locations were in Lisbon, Portugal.
Eric told us that the scene in the lecture hall was actually that of the main museum in Lisbon. We weren’t surprised by this, but we were surprised what he told us next: The museum and other landmarks in Lisbon are associated with Armenian businessman Calouste Gulbenkian.
The Survival Pictures team consulted with experts in this field, looked deeper into the first-person survivor stories, memoirs of survivors and other documents. They invited the historians to watch The Promise, and the filmmakers made adjustments based on their feedback.
Turkey and The Promise
The Promise is everywhere in the world, or just about, but how did they introduce the film to Turkey? Or did they, given the controversial subject matter? Eric made sure Turkish historians were consulted for the film. Over decades, the Turkish government has made repeated denials about the genocide, with some leaders and citizens trying their best to deny it happened, but not everyone was convinced. Eric mentioned they tried their best to “wipe the crime scene down” but it was not 100% effective. There is a huge group of enlightened Turkish people who want to see the film.
With Turkey’s current political climate being so oppressive, there is no ability for Turkish people to speak out. Also, a large number of journalists have been jailed. It is the perfect storm for containing the story and maintaining silence. As you can see, there is difficulty talking about the film, let alone getting people to see it.
Find the Time
Eric has been busy with this film for the past two years. We were curious how he finds the time between let’s say, saving the world from disease (as a doctor) and promoting this film? He says his work is about helping people. If it doesn’t help someone he doesn’t put his time into it.
Save the Date: “The Promise” opens April 21st in theaters everywhere.